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A quick Mailbag from The Heartland, but first, a few passing shots:
• There was, naturally, a lot of chatter about Li Na’s retirement. Three more points:
a) Yes, it’s tennis. Yes, she barely a half-year removed from winning a major. But I don’t think she “unretires” and comes back.
b) She will be recalled for her multiple majors, but her real contributions go so far beyond that. If there were sponsor bonuses for shattering stereotypes, she would exceed Maria Sharapova in income.
c) Her retirement announcement -- especially coinciding with the Wuhan Open and the WTA’s Asian swing -- has really opened a window into Chinese culture, persistent sexism and the uneasy relationship between private interests and the state. Follow Courtney Nguyen for more on this.
• Last week I promised a Nadal story to counter/complement the Federer anecdote. Here it goes: at Wimbledon last summer, a clot of fans gathered to watch Nadal practice. After the session, the mob tried to get Nadal’s autograph and photo. In the scrum, a young girl got elbowed in the head and walked away tearfully. Nadal got wind of this and dispatched one of his team members to find the girl. He then conveyed the address of his rental home in Wimbledon Village and invited her and her family to come visit him that evening. They arrived at the appointed time and Nadal spend 20 minutes talking to the group as if they’ve been friends for years.
• A few of you wrote in yesterday asking for condemnation of Marin Cilic for posing with controversial performer Marko Perkovic, who’s been accused of accused of a Neo-Nazism and being virulently anti-Serb.
Honestly, I need to educate myself before I can have an informed answer, but it is probably ripe for discussion next week….
What do you think of Gala Leon Garcia being named captain of the Davis Cup team? It’s caused quite a [ruckus] in Spain.
-- Johnny, Barcelona
• For the late arriving crowd, after a disastrous 2014 Davis Cup campaign, Spain parted ways with Carlos Moya and replaced him with Gala Leon Garcia, the first woman to oversee a team. (One report referred to her as the first “non-playing captain,” which raises more questions than it answers.
For all the easy criticism tennis about being stodgy and wed to tradition, the sport has been at the forefront of all manner of social and is often more progressive than its counterparts. Consider this another example: a few months ago, Andy Murray hired Amelie Mauresmo as his coach and, after day or two of chatter, the discussion veered from gender to whether she could help his game. For years female officials have worked men’s matches, but it was barely noticed at the time.
Consider this another bold step: sure, Toni Nadal made an unfortunate remark about whether Garcia -- a top 30 WTA player in her day -- could truly understand the nuances of men’s tennis, different as it is from women’s tennis. It is curious given that a) Toni Nadal never played at a competitive level, male or female, yet grasps the game just fine and b) the vast majority of WTA coaches are male and yet they have managed discerned the differences and c) Davis Cup captaincy is not exactly a deep dive into the inner works of tennis. The job requirements: pick a line-up, go to some ITF dinners and once you learn the ins and outs, tell players “¡Vamos!” on changeovers.
There were also questions about how Garcia could insinuate herself into the locker room culture, a tired concern that has the mustiness and mildew of, well, a locker room shower.
This will spin for a few more news cycles. Then we’ll begin talking about whether Garcia can recruit to the top players -- which Spain failed to do this year -- and whether Robert Baustista Agut should play in 2015 over David Ferrer and whether she stands on calls for format change. And again, without beating its chest, tennis will have quietly taken another step forward.
Please help spread the word that Yevgeny Kafelnikov should be voted into the HOF. #travestyofjustice
• I’ll spread the word. But I stop there. No petition signature from me, and no Hall of Fame vote either. I might be in the minority, but I’m not moved to support to Kafelnikov. Yes, he has a pair of majors to his name. But if we’re being honest here, he wasn't a good corporate citizen and left the sport on poor terms. He was not popular with his peers. (Tired of hearing Kafelnikov whine about prize money, Andre Agassi once said memorably, “My feelings are he should take his prize money when he's done here and go buy some perspective.”) The ATP staffers called him, “Dr. No,” because it was his reflexive response anytime he was asked to do something for the good of the tour. At some point the Hall of Fame needs to set new precedent. Here’s a place to start.
"Asia's most successful tennis career"? Is Russia still in Asia?
• No, not for these purposes. As a thought exercise, though, if a Russian player came not from Moscow or St. Petersburg but from Vladivostok, would he/she be considered Asian?
Can you shed a little more light on your "sources" who said Rafa was done for the year? He's clearly not.
• Here’s what I wrote: “Maybe they were simply putting on a brave face, but ATP officials were expressing confidence that Nadal would be back from a wrist injury for the Asian swing and the World Tour Finals. I’ve also been told by sources not to be surprised if he shuts it down for the rest of the season.”
But I’ll bite on your question. There was a lot of conflicting reports and gossip during the U.S. Open. Nadal was going to be back in time for Asia. Not so fast, we were then told, we hope he’ll be back for Asia. A former ATP player believed Nadal would not risk playing in the fall. There were also murmurs that Nadal might be bailing on the IPTL -- accurate, it turned out -- giving credence to the speculation that he might be shutting down the engine until 2015.
On September 4, I emailed the Nadal camp: “If you're me, how do you write about Rafa's status?” The response was playful: “I don’t write anything right now!"
Fair answer. But I hope you’ll agree it did not exactly douse concerns. This isn’t a complaint -- it’s simply reality. If this were a team sport, you might have more thorough injury reports. In tennis, with individual contractors, it’s essentially up to the player to reveal as much or little as they like about their health and fitness and expected return dates. (You might say that tennis’ injury reports are sub-Belichickian.) In the absence of firm guidelines or timelines, there is, inevitably, rumor and speculation. And, as we saw from Li Na’s retirement reports and the USTA’s fierce denial that Patrick McEnroe was out at player development head, even a public disavowal cannot be taken at face value.
I’m looking to buy my wife a new tennis racket. She plays probably once a week and mostly plays doubles. Any suggestions?
-- Carl, New City
• Give her a gift certificate to a nearby sporting goods store. (Support a local business if possible.) Tell her to choose. It’s so personal -- and often irrational -- that you’re better off imbuing her with decision-making power.
• ICYMI: Here are some thoughts on Li Na and what it means for tennis in China.
• Max Eisenbud’s apology and a Harry and David’s fruit basket will be arriving on Mary Carillo’s doorstep in 3,2,1….Eisenbud denied Li Na’s retirement earlier this month, but this goes for Steve Bisciotti, too: when you publically deny a journalist’s report, you are impugning their credibility and competence.
• This week’s unsolicited non-tennis tip: pianist Anthony Molinaro, “Blackbird.”
• Cori Brown of London: I just came across this brilliant piece from January 2007. Needless to say I couldn't help but chuckle: “Williams is lose cause.” (Not to be outdone, reader Bryan G. of New York also noted this piece.)
• Ivan H of New York has LLS: It’s a remarkable one... especially given both of their inclination to wear red. Severin Luthi and Jack White, formerly of the White Stripes: